A Meta-Analysis of Overfitting in Machine Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Rebecca Roelofs, Vaishaal Shankar, Benjamin Recht, Sara Fridovich-Keil, Moritz Hardt, John Miller, Ludwig Schmidt


We conduct the first large meta-analysis of overfitting due to test set reuse in the machine learning community. Our analysis is based on over one hundred machine learning competitions hosted on the Kaggle platform over the course of several years. In each competition, numerous practitioners repeatedly evaluated their progress against a holdout set that forms the basis of a public ranking available throughout the competition. Performance on a separate test set used only once determined the final ranking. By systematically comparing the public ranking with the final ranking, we assess how much participants adapted to the holdout set over the course of a competition. Our study shows, somewhat surprisingly, little evidence of substantial overfitting. These findings speak to the robustness of the holdout method across different data domains, loss functions, model classes, and human analysts.